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Country club not liable in Pennsylvania wrongful death appeal

A recent ruling by a Pennsylvania appeals court confirmed an earlier decision on a wrongful death case. The wrongful death suit was originally filed against a local country club and a male patron of the club, after an accident that occurred shortly after the guest left the club's premises. According to court records, the man was served alcohol during his time at the club. Not long after his departure, he hit a motorcycle, causing the death of the two people on the bike. The victims’ families sought to hold the country club partially liable under the Dram Shop Act.

Facts in the case established that the man drank numerous beers before, during and after his weekly golf game on the day of the incident. The Dram Shop Act proscribes a business with an alcohol license to serve anyone who is visibly intoxicated. At trial, the jury found that there was no visible proof the man was drunk when the bar served him drinks, even though his blood alcohol level when the accident occurred was found to be at least twice the legal limit.

Instead, witnesses and corroborating evidence showed the accident happened when the man was distracted while trying to read a text message at the time of the crash and not necessarily because he was intoxicated. He did plead guilty and will serve a sentence of up to 10 years in prison. The court in the original trial ruled the country club was not responsible for the two deaths, which led the victims' families to file the appeals with a higher court. However, the jury did find the driver responsible for the deaths of the motorcyclists.

Even though these families did not receive the ruling they were seeking regarding the role of the country club in the accident, other wrongful death claims in Pennsylvania have been successful against establishments found to have violated the Dram Shop Act. Moreover, the families here were still successful in pressing their claims of financial responsibility against the driver. While the specifics concerning that issue were not further reported, a monetary judgment in such cases would typically cover funeral expenses and related end of life costs, loss of future income and other financial losses recognized under the law.

Source: The Pennsylvania Record, "Court affirms ruling that clears golf course of liability in fatal DUI crash", Jim Boyle, June 12, 2014

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